From Nation of Change by Christine Leclerc
Just when it seemed that the Keystone XL pipeline was on hold, TransCanada Corp. segmented the project and the U.S. government fast-tracked the environmental review process. This allows TransCanada to begin construction on the southern part of the Keystone XL this summer.
With a nonviolent direct action camp that started July 27, 2012 in East Texas, grassroots opponents are working on a construction project of their own: Tar Sands Blockade, a coalition of landowners, community members, students, and others dedicated to stopping the pipeline through direct action.
Building in Segments to Get around Opposition
The Keystone XL pipeline was originally proposed as a single line that went from Alberta to Texas. However, in February, TransCanada announced that the southern part of the Keystone XL had been reconceived as a separate Gulf Coast Project Seaway pipeline.
The Seaway pipeline is an aging 36-year old low pressure crude pipeline that passes through Collin, Grayson, Rockwall, and Kaufman counties, and crosses tributaries to Lake Lavon and other water sources supplying the DFW area.
In this plan, tar sands crude will travel 500-miles between Cushing, Oklahoma and refineries on the Gulf Coast. Tar sands is far more toxic, acidic, and corrosive than conventional crude since it has to be liquified with natural gas condensate and other chemicals to dilute it enough to push it through a highly pressurized pipeline.
The Seaway pipeline will be developed by Enbridge Inc., the operator responsible for the largest and most expensive tar sand spill in U.S. history, in a 50/50 partnership with Enterprise Partners. The toxic Enbridge spill on the Kalamazoo River in Michigan was due to a rupture in an aging, 43-year old repurposed pipeline, not unlike Seaway. Now, two years and $720 million later, people along the Kalamazoo are sick and their property is ruined.DFW's already scarce water supply will be at risk with the transport of tar sands crude through this aging, repurposed pipeline.
TransCanada spokesperson David Dodson characterizes the Gulf Coast pipeline as important for the energy security of the United States.
According to Dodson, domestic producers “do not have access to enough pipeline capacity to move the production to the large refining market along the U.S. Gulf Coast.”
In March, U.S. President Barack Obama expedited the review process for pipelines going from Oklahoma to Texas. “In part due to rising domestic production, more oil is flowing in than can flow out, creating a bottleneck that is dampening incentives for new production while restricting oil from reaching state-of-the-art refineries on the Gulf Coast,” reads the president's March 22 memo.
In a whopping 86-word sentence, the president goes on to explain that all agencies are to “coordinate and expedite their reviews, consultations, and other processes as necessary to expedite decisions related to domestic pipeline infrastructure projects.”
Following the President's order to expedite the review process, the Sierra Club, Oklahoma and Texas landowners, and the Texas communities of Reklaw, Gallatin, and Alto filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), which issues water permits.
Tar Sands Blockade spokesperson Ron Seifert explained that the president was under no obligation to come forward and expedite the Gulf Coast Project review process. “The president expedited the project not because he had to, but because he wanted to show support for our oil and gas industry,” Seifert said. “It wasn't mandated by any laws. But in doing so, our Environmental Protection Agency was persuaded to stand down and the result is that the more thorough water crossing investigations and hearings along the pipeline route are basically bypassed.”
USACE names environmental sustainability as a guiding principle.
A Lesson from Enbridge
Another organization that highlights its interest in sustainability is Enbridge, Inc. The company joined forces with the University of Calgary’s Haskayne School of Business on March 27, 2012, to unveil the Enbridge Centre for Corporate Sustainability.
But these days the name Enbridge is more likely to evoke images of its 2010 oil spill, in which 20,000 barrels of oil flowed into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River. The disaster has been called the largest inland oil spill in the history of the U.S. Midwest.
In its July 25 report on the Enbridge oil spill, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board twice recommends that Enbridge require its operators “to provide system-specific information about their pipeline systems to the emergency response agencies of the communities and jurisdictions in which those pipelines are located.” The report goes on to say that these reports should include details such as “pipe diameter, operating pressure, product transported, and the potential impact radius.”
Seifert from Tar Sands Blockade indicated that TransCanada has not disclosed the pipeline contents to landowners. In a phone interview from Texas, he expressed concern about chemicals used to dilute bitumen. Bitumen requires dilution because it is too thick to flow through pipelines by itself. And there is fear that diluted bitumen, or “dilbit,” will pass through the Gulf Coast Project if the northern part of the Keystone XL is built. Diluted bitumen contains carcinogenic benzenes and toxic heavy metals.
Referring to the National Transportation Safety Board report, Seifert says that Enbridge “increased their pipeline pressure on several occasions leading up to the accident. They did that because they were getting false readings from gas bubbles in their pipe. So that's an endemic flaw of tar sands dilbit because they mix and dilute tar sands with this natural gas condensate, which creates gas pockets and creates false pressure readings.”
Council of Canadians Energy and Climate Justice Campaigner Maryam Adrangi concurs with Seifert's observation about the oil and gas industry's lack of transparency. “They talk a lot about hypothetical [pipeline] routes lately. You think in the back of your mind, these companies have to have an idea of where they want to put these projects,” Adrangi said in a phone interview from Vancouver. “There's just a general lack of transparency when it comes down to it.”
- Lamar County farmer sows seeds of doubt over Keystone pipeline
- June 21, 2012 - Kalamazoo River reopens to the public, 2 years after Enbridge oil spill in Michigan
- Feds: Enbridge detected defect years before massive oil spill
- Enbridge, Inc. Hazardous Liquid Pipeline Rupture
- Enbridge says it met all regulatory standards at time of Kalamazoo River oil spill, has corrected problems
- Campaign aims to counter oil sands criticism